What is a teacher’s legacy? What happens after the last test is marked, photos of that final field trip have been taken and all those inspired students have graduated?
A Riverside secondary graduate found out — and it cost him some sore feet, a few lost pounds and a changed perspective on life.
Five years after the death of Riverside’s French Immersion teacher Jacques-André Larrivée, Cole Crocker decided to take on the challenge his beloved teacher couldn’t complete because he died of a heart attack halfway through.
Crocker embarked on the Shikoku Pilgrimage, the final 250 km of the 1,200-walking tour, visiting the last 29 of 88 temples along the route that the late Port Coquitlam teacher was unable to finish.
“The choice of travelling to Japan came out of my memory of my teacher passing away in Japan,” said Crocker, now a mechanical engineer who was in the Riverside Class of 2007.
Larrivée passed away in 2013 after completing about half or 600 km of the famous Shikoku Pilgrimage that he tackled as a post-retirement excursion with his friend and fellow walker, Leo Lebrun.
The death came as a shock to Crocker who saw Larrivée as a mentor and father figure.
“He was a very formidable force in one’s life in the development of young people,” Crocker told The Tri-City News. “The intensity he brought to classroom — I came to respect it for how he educates people, not just in the French language, but helping students to become adults.”
The idea of wrapping up the walk Larrivée and Lebrun started seemed like a good way to accomplish two goals, see a little bit of the world and give back to the community and teacher he so loved.
Before leaving in September, Crocker spoke with Lebrun, a noted walker, who told The Tri-City News he was impressed with the young man’s vision; the trip would finish the last one-quarter of the pilgrimage.
“What Cole tried to do was complete what we began and he successfully did that and was able to pass on what it was we attempted to do there,” said Lebrun, who started a French Immersion program at School District 43 with Larrivée in the late 1970s.
With Lebrun’s blessing, Crocker set off on his 10-day walking trip, bringing with him a plush frog, one of a large collection that was auctioned off at Larrivée’s memorial in 2013. “It had been on my book shelf. It turned out to be a focal point,” Crocker said.
The frog, a symbol for Larrivée, who joked about Quebecois people being called frogs, was a constant companion. It was with him when he visited the temples and was placed nearby when Crocker lit candles in Larrivée’s name and participated in Buddhist chants, sometimes so exhausted after walking 40 km that day all he could do was meditate.
“I had a connection to him, and the frog was key to that,” Crocker recalled.
Now home, Crocker is waiting for the frog to be mailed to him in a package from Japan, another reminder of his teachers’ legacy, and the importance of completing the 1,200 journey that the older men started years earlier. “Not one of us did the whole thing; all of us completed it together. I want to recognize that we completed it as a bit of a team.”
He also wants to raise funds for a bursary started by Larrivée held in trust at School District 43 for promising French Immersion students seeking to enroll in post-secondary education.
His journey over, Crocker is more appreciative than ever of Larrivée’s legacy to encourage his students to reach their goals and wants to be part of the legacy.
The trip to Japan, it appears, was just the start.
• To find out more and contribute to the GoFundMe campaign, visit https://www.gofundme.com/walk-for-jacques-shikoku-japan.